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Whitney Holding Corp. (NASDAQ:WTNY)

Q4 2008 Earnings Call

January 28, 2009 4:30 pm ET

Executives

John Hope - Chairman and CEO

John Turner - President

Tom Callicutt - EVP and CFO

Lewis Rogers - EVP, Credit Administration

Joe Exnicios - EVP, Chief Risk Officer

Steve Barker - Comptroller of the Bank

Analysts

Kevin Fitzsimmons - Sandler O’Neill

Jeff Davis - Howe Barnes

William Griffin - Sterne, Agee

David Grace - SunTrust-Robinson Humphrey

Bain Slack - KBW

Al Savastano - Fox-Pitt, Kelton

Polly Zhang - JPMorgan

Operator

Good day everyone and welcome to the Whitney Holding Corporation's Fourth Quarter 2008 Earnings Results Conference Call. Today's program is being recorded. Participating in today's program are John Hope, Chairman and CEO; John Turner, President; Tom Callicutt, CFO; Lewis Rogers, EVP of Credit Administration; Joe Exnicios, Chief Risk Officer, and Steve Barker, Comptroller of the Bank.

At this time for opening remarks, I would like to turn things over to Mr. Steve Barker. Please go ahead, sir.

Steve Barker

Good afternoon. During today's call we may make forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements provide projections of results of operations or financial conditions or state other forward-looking information such as expectations about future conditions and descriptions of plans and strategies for the future. Factors that could cause actual results to differ from those expressed in the company's forward-looking statements include but are not limited to those outlined in Whitney's filings with the SEC. Whitney does not intend and undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements.

I will now turn the call over to John Hope, Chairman and CEO.

John Hope

Good afternoon everybody. Thank you for joining us today. The fourth quarter results as you saw from our release this morning almost mirrored the results we reported in the second and third quarters of 2008. We continue to deal with the challenges being faced in our economy, particularly the real estate markets and our Florida market.

These challenges coupled with the overall economic picture once again led to a sizable credit loss provision $45 million for the quarter. However as we have also seen these past couple of quarters, we were able to pay for the credit costs out of earnings and still report a profit. Earnings available to common shareholders for the quarter were $8.2 million or $0.12 a share. This was a slight increase from the third quarter. Results for the quarter did include our acquisition of Parish National Corporation, which was announced on June 9th, finalized on November the 7th, and then the sale of the $300 million in preferred stock and warrants to the U.S. Treasury on December 19th.

The Parish acquisition added approximately $605 million in loans and $635 million deposits at period end. With all the focus this quarter on whether banks are lending or not, I am pleased to report that during the fourth quarter we organically grew loans approximately $400 million or 21% linked quarter annualized. While our reported loan growth for the quarter was $1 billion about $600 million was related to Parish.

The organic loan growth for the quarter reflects demand from most markets within the company’s footprint. For the quarter Texas loans grew 10%, Alabama and Mississippi loans grew 4% and Florida loans actually grew 1%. In Southwest Louisiana, our markets gave us 2% loan growth during the quarter and in the Greater New Orleans market reflecting on improving economy here loans grew 7%.

The quarter's loan growth was funded through deposits and in increase in short-term borrowings and while the loan growth numbers are a positive sign, our capital and liquidity allowed us to take care of our customer's borrowing needs. We do remain cautious on our expectations for loan growth in 2009.

We currently believe that the weakening economy will result in a slowdown of loan demand and therefore we’ve not built-in the fourth quarter 2008 level of loan growth and our projections going forward. Another challenge we faced during the quarter besides credit was the latest downward movement and rates by the Fed.

At this point I would like to turn it over to Tom Callicutt, who will get into more detail on this topic as well as the other financial information.

Tom Callicutt

Thank you, John. Even though we are an asset sensitive company, we were able to successfully manage rates and maintain a relatively stable net interest margin. The net interest margin of 4.49% was down only 4 basis points compared to last quarter while net interest income increased 7% or $8 million. The margin reflects the loan growth noted earlier, a strong level of non-interest bearing deposits, 34% of total deposits on average for the quarter and another quarter of benefit from high LIBOR rates.

Deposits on average increased approximately $415 million from the third quarter while average DDA increased $200 million. Approximately $380 million in average deposits were related to Parish. The impact from Parish on the net interest margin percentage was negligible. Because of the return to a more normal spread between LIBOR and Fed funds and lower overall interest rates it would not be unreasonable to expect some net interest margin compression during the first quarter.

Non-interest income for the fourth quarter of 2008 increased 6% or $1.6 million from the third quarter, approximately $1.2 million of the increase was related to Parish. Non-interest expense for the fourth quarter increased 3% or $2.5 million from the third quarter. Approximately $6.8 million of the total non-interest expense was related to the addition of Parish and included approximately $1.8 million related to conversion costs and $700,000 in the amortization of intangibles.

Excluding the costs associated with Parish, total non-interest expense actually decreased $4.3 million or 5% from the third quarter. Employee compensation was down $7 million excluding $2.2 million in salary and wage expense added from Parish. The decrease was due to a reduction in management bonus and incentive compensation during the quarter.

Employee benefits decreased $2.7 million from the third quarter excluding $400,000 from Parish. This decrease was mainly a result of amendments made to the defined benefit pension plan during the quarter. Legal and other professional fees increased $1.6 million during the fourth quarter excluding $1.3 million in conversion costs associated with the Parish merger.

Increased expenses related to problem loan collection efforts, expenses related to various process improvements and technology of projects and our participation in the Treasury's capital purchase program accounted for the majority of the increase. Other non-interest expense increased approximately $3.7 million from the third quarter excluding approximately $1 million related to Parish. The remainder of the increase includes approximately $1 million at higher costs associated with problem loan collection efforts and $1.9 million in costs associated with branch closings scheduled for early 2009.

Speaking of expenses, I want to share with you what we considered to be a real success story. Obviously, expense containment is a big issue at all times, but especially in these economic and industry conditions. As most of you should know we started a formal cost containment program in mid 2007 and have continued to implement that program through our planning for 2009.

As of the end of 2008, we specifically documented approximately $20 million in operating expense reductions off our annual run rate with more to come in 2009. More than half of the savings to date has come from head count reductions and reduced benefits. Based on strategic evaluations we closed or will close 14 branches outside of those being eliminated due to overlap with the acquisition of Parish. None of these cost reductions have negative strategic impacts and they facilitate our ability to make strategic investments in the future.

Now I will turn it over to Joe Exnicios who will talk about credit.

Joe Exnicios

Thank you, Tom. Our comments on the credit results for the fourth quarter are basically the same as we’ve made for the third quarter. That is real estate issues in Florida continue to drive our credit metrics and our provision requirement. We are yet to see any signs of systemic credit issues in any of our other regions outside of Florida or in any particular industry segment throughout our footprint. We do however see signs of a general weakening in the overall economy.

Given our concentration in the energy sector, we are closely monitoring commodity prices, results posted by our customers and various other trends in the energy sector. Loans outstanding to oil and gas industry customers represent approximately 11% of total loans at year-end and that’s up from 10% a year earlier. About 31% of the loans are related to exploration and production lending with a balance supporting the industry through transportation, supplies and other services.

Our exploration and production portfolio is approximately 60% gas and 40% oil. A significant percentage of the gas reserves of our customers are hedged. Continuing weaknesses in residential related real estate markets primarily in the Tampa Bay, Florida regions accounted for approximately $25 million of the provision for the fourth quarter of 2008, while commercial real estate development and investor credits added $9 million.

Problem commercial and industrial credits added approximately $7 million to the provision. Management added another $3 million to the allowance and provision based on its regular assessment of current economic conditions and other qualitative factors. The quarterly provision also include a $3 million associated with changes in non-criticized credits and approximately $4 million related to charge-offs on consumer and other smaller credits, that were more than offset by losses recovered during the period of $6 million.

The provision of $45 million exceeded net charge-offs of $19.7 million. This brought the allowance to loan ratio to 1.77% up from 1.55% last quarter and 1.16% a year earlier. The majority of the gross charge-offs during the quarter $19 million were related to residential related credits with $3 million related to C&I credits and $2 million from commercial real state credits.

The total of loans criticized to the company's credit risk-rating process was $770 million at December 31st, 2008, which represented 8.5% of total loans and a net increase of $184 million from September 30th, 2008. Criticized loans from the merger with Parish National accounted for approximately $55 million of the increase. Over half of the remaining increase came from residential development or investment loans mainly in our Tampa market.

Special mentioned credits, the least criticized category increased $24 million to a total of $192 million, while substandard and doubtful credits increased $160 million. Included in criticize loans are approximately $301 million of non-performing loans up $66 million net during the quarter. Approximately $6 million of the increase came from the Parish National merger with about two-thirds of the remaining increase related to residential related credits.

At the end of the year 7.2% of our non-performing loans are in Florida, 8% in Alabama, 18% in Louisiana and 2% in Texas. We did not sell any troubled loans during the quarter and are still managing our problem, our problems credit-by-credit, although we would consider bulk sales at an appropriate price.

Now I’ll turn it back over to John Hope.

John Hope

Whitney has been and has always been fundamentally a good bank. As I mentioned at the beginning of my comments we again were able to pay for our credit cost out of earnings, report a profit and just as important still make loans. The addition of 300 million in funds received from our preferred stock sale to the Treasury at the end of the quarter added to our already strong capital numbers and will allow us to weather what looks to be a deeper and longer recession.

The tangible capital ratio increased to 8.95 from 7.89, last quarter. And the leverage ratio improved to 9.87 from 8.14. During the quarter tangible capital was reduced approximately 100 basis points for completion of the transaction with Parish. The funds also strengthen our ability to continue to provide both lending and deposit services to customers and communities across our footprint as our company and the entire nation faces the challenges that we have and will have coming from these unprecedented economic times.

I’d now like to open it up for questions. If we can do our best and I’ll try to be the moderator and direct question to the appropriate person to answer.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions). And we go first to Kevin Fitzsimmons with Sandler O'Neill

Kevin Fitzsimmons - Sandler O’Neill

Hi. Good afternoon everyone.

John Hope

Hi. Kevin

Kevin Fitzsimmons - Sandler O’Neill

John, a couple of questions. First, I didn’t get all the numbers, I apologize for this when you were going through the energy exposure, so if it's possible, can repeat some of the numbers on the oil and gas and the exploration production, you don’t mind? Then, can you take a step back and talk about more indirect exposure to energy and other areas? That’s more direct but that whole region of the country the Gulf Coast and now in Texas, what kind of things are you looking at in terms of the regions, and are you seeing any weakening due to what’s happening in energy? Thanks.

John Hope

Sure I am going to ask Joe Exnicios, our Risk Officer to address the answer.

Joe Exnicios

Kevin what we said was that loans outstanding to the oil and gas industry represent approximately 11% of our total outstanding loans that was up from 10% a year earlier. What we also said was about 31% of the loans are related to the exploration and production lending with the balance really spread out between transportation, supplies and other services. We also said that our exploration and production portfolio is approximately 60% gas and 40% oil.

Kevin Fitzsimmons - Sandler O’Neill

Great, thank you. Can address the broader question of indirect exposure to energy?

John Hope

I think that if I can even add to that a little bit, Kevin. Briefly, I will ask Joe to comment about overall what we are seeing in terms of any developing credit issues and overall what we have assessed our credit situation to be within the energy sector.

Joe Exnicios

Kevin, our energy portfolio is performing very well. Now, we are well aware of the changes in commodity prices, we follow that very carefully. But that portion of our portfolio is performing well as we speak.

Kevin Fitzsimmons - Sandler O’Neill

But, are you beginning to see small businesses or businesses that you wouldn’t think of as directly related to energy just in that area that are beginning to feel any affects of that?

Joe Exnicios

No Kevin, I can’t say that we have.

Kevin Fitzsimmons - Sandler O’Neill

Okay. Okay, just, do one quick follow-up John. Could you, with your capital level, with what’s going on in the industry, and if we have some kind of rationalization here, can you talk about, assuming you were brought some kind of situation or some in terms of being able to consolidate another entity, what would appeal to you? What would you really be staying away from these days?

John Hope

Let me start off by saying right now we will stay away from just about anything. You got to know what you are buying and it’s just so difficult in today’s environment to even think about buying. If we were given an opportunity to acquire some meaningful deposits then we would consider that. But acquiring any loans right now, I think we will have to be a stretch. Even so, we would have to have some awfully strong government support. We have taken a look at many of the failed institutions so far where there were deposit acquisition opportunities and we have just really didn’t see a quality deposit base. There were a lot of broker deposits, lot of higher price CDs. So, we have yet to see anything that we felt like was an opportunity.

Kevin Fitzsimmons - Sandler O’Neill

Okay, great. Thank you.

Operator

And we will go next to Jeff Davis with Howe Barnes.

Jeff Davis - Howe Barnes

Good afternoon, question for Lewis. In terms of the commercial real estate market, which has virtually disappeared in much of the country -- maybe that's a little strong. How do you evaluate the collateral values on commercial real estate and I know cap rates vary about product by location? But is it something where you are just adding 300 basis points? Can you give us a little bit color in terms of how you are thinking about underlying values for commercial real estate?

Lewis Rogers

Jeff, we have always done some stress testing that would imply a rate environment. It's less attractive then when we make the loans. So, I guess the answer is yes, but that’s always has been our discipline as it would relate to CRE. The market is volatile. Values are volatile for certain types of the cash flow lending issues. So you are looking at the lease payments discounting those sometimes at different rates depending on market environment. I think, all bankers are extremely careful as it relates to the CRE book, we are a short-term lender. We construct loans and then like to be paid out, construct facilities and we are aware that the permanent market has changed, so we are having to adapt to that.

Jeff Davis - Howe Barnes

If the CMBS market has virtually collapsed -- I mean for extrapolated cap rates from at least absorbable yield for the CMBS market. Would you say that they were back in the double digits again? Lewis, is there a point for Whitney, or maybe the industry as a whole, wherein assessing collateral values on commercial real estate if not this quarter or later in the year where Whitney or the industry has to come back and you simply say we need another layer of reserves just to cover the dropping values on linked collateral?

Lewis Rogers

Jeff, the whole issue of impact of appraisals on our business is what bankers are going through, yes, those rate changes will impact us. I wouldn’t say we are to the point where I think bankers are going to need to add a whole new level of reserves. Again, let's assume you’ve got loans in many firms that might through construction. Many firms generally – if the loans are performing, we are not prone to be adding a lot of reserves just because we assess the cap rates have changed and this may concern you. So the issue would be more on your impaired analysis not on, an on going basis, where I think bankers are going to be adding a good bit of reserves for performing commercial real estate.

Jeff Davis - Howe Barnes

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

We’ll go next to William Griffin with Sterne, Agee.

William Griffin - Sterne, Agee

Hi, everybody. Another credit question. Your forecasts were down considerably, whereas your non-performings were up a similar amount, and I was just wondering if you can give for granularity as to what drove that difference?

Lewis Rogers

The NPAs are continuing to raise charge-offs, they are lumpy at times depending on what’s causing them. A lot of the charge-offs in each quarter are driven by appraisal issues, so I am not contradicting what I just told Jeff, but if you got an impaired loan, you get it reappraised with frequency. We have said, and I have said continuously for well over a year that as we have added reserves, we expect our charge-offs. When we add them so often that we can't identify the point in time we add the reserves, they are beginning to manifest themselves. I would like to be able to tell you, you could read a lot into the lower charge-offs, but I don’t – but I don't want to imply that. I think charge-offs can be lumpy and just pinned on a point in time that you are getting appraisals and making other assessments. We added reserves over and above our charge-offs, and that implies that we think there is still a growing inherent loss in this portfolio and I think that's the message I would send to you.

William Griffin - Sterne, Agee

Okay and one another quick one on your OCI loss, you have a little increase there quarter-over-quarter, what drove that?

Lewis Rogers

I am sorry. Could you repeat the question?

William Griffin - Sterne, Agee

I am sorry. Your OCI loss increased by about rather $13 million from last quarter and I was just wondering what drove that mark?

Lewis Rogers

That’s the retention plan's loss of market value of assets versus the volatility?

Tom Callicutt

Right that’s, this is Tom. I thought that's what you were asking. We lost value in the plan assets and that’s what really drove it versus the liability -- if that's the question you are asking.

William Griffin - Sterne, Agee

Okay. Yes. Yes. That is okay.

Tom Callicutt

Thank you.

William Griffin - Sterne, Agee

All right. Well thank you very much gentlemen.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). And we will go to Jennifer Demba with SunTrust-Robinson Humphrey.

David Grace - SunTrust-Robinson Humphrey

Hi good afternoon everyone this is David Grace, I am Jennifer's associate filling in for her here. I just had one question about home builder exposure on North Shore and maybe loss content over non-accruals in that sub-portfolio.

Joe Exnicios

We have not seen a run up in non-accruals for our home builders on the North Shore. We did a pretty thorough due diligence with Parish National and I think we could say there were no surprises coming out of that acquisition with respect to that. The home building activity on the North Shore really slowed down early in 2008. So, there really hasn’t been a lot of new home buildings over the last year.

John Hope

Yes. I would just add we have modest exposure there and Parish did as well. They actually quit making stack loans about 6 to 8 months before we closed on the transaction, so our exposure out there is pretty modest.

David Grace - SunTrust-Robinson Humphrey

Okay. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Operator

And we will go next of Bain Slack with KBW.

Bain Slack - KBW

Hi, good evening. Just had a quick question on the tax rate. I am not sure if I missed it. I guess looking in the last two quarters, it’s been running a little bit low, and I was kind of wondering if there is anything unusual there and what normalized. Looking forward, how you are planning for it?

Tom Callicutt

Well obviously, it’s been looking low because of the relationship of non-taxable income to total income. You know if you had a more normal relationship, the non-taxable fees would be a smaller percentage and you would had have a higher tax rate. Does that make sense?

Bain Slack - KBW

Yes. I guess some area – is there a….

Tom Callicutt

Yes. All year we have had tax credits and some new market tax credits, but that’s built in the entire year.

Bain Slack - KBW

Okay and then I guess – could you break that out if possible, in the dollar amount?

Tom Callicutt

No, not at the moment.

Bain Slack - KBW

Okay. I know, that is often the situation. Looking forward, I'm trying to figure out, were the tax credits were underrated?

Tom Callicutt

Right. The tax credits will continue forward. So, if you go back and look at earlier quarters where we might not have had quite as much provision and more net interest income, you might get a better idea to how to build that.

Bain Slack - KBW

Okay. Okay. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). And we will go to Al Savastano with Fox-Pitt & Kelton.

Al Savastano - Fox-Pitt, Kelton

Good afternoon, how are you?

John Hope

Fine.

Al Savastano - Fox-Pitt, Kelton

A one of a kind question, color on the expenses. As we look at the fourth quarter rate it looked like that we had some reversals of accruals. Can you give us an idea what those accruals were, what their reversals were, and just give us some color on the FDIC deposit insurance increase?

Tom Callicutt

Well, this is Tom. The reversals really had to do with mostly with management bonuses and other incentives and the accruals to ramp performance based restricted stock.

Al Savastano - Fox-Pitt, Kelton

The other amount, is that above the $7 million?

Tom Callicutt

Maybe 6 of the 7 sure, something like that. Then what was the rest of your question?

Al Savastano - Fox-Pitt, Kelton

Color on FDIC.

Tom Callicutt

FDIC. Well as you know, the FDIC reinstated having to pay them for insurance, some time I think in 2007, actually. But all of the Fed credits that we offset against that, most with all the banking industry. Those credits ran out in the third quarter. So not only did you see an increase in the third quarter and then a bigger increase in the fourth quarter, but you will see increases all next year.

John Hope

All this year.

Tom Callicutt

Excuse me, all this year, and you still might for 2008.

Al Savastano - Fox-Pitt, Kelton

Okay, would you mind telling us how much deposit insurance expense was in the fourth quarter?

Tom Callicutt

Let’s see, if we have it. Well, it was somewhere around the $1.5 million, I would think, just from what we have here. We have it included with something else but that’s my guess.

Al Savastano - Fox-Pitt, Kelton

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

And we will go to John Pancari with JPMorgan.

Polly Zhang - JPMorgan

Actually, this is Polly Zhang on behalf of John. How are you?

John Hope

Fine.

Polly Zhang - JPMorgan

I was wondering if you would comment a little on whether you are seeing any signs of weakness or contagion in the C&I sector and more specifically, the hospitality sector.

Joe Exnicios

Well, as we mentioned we really haven’t seen any systemic weakening in any particular market outside of Tampa or in any particular industry. You know, with respect to the hospitality industry in New Orleans, there is no doubt that it has been a rough couple of years for them. But, other than one particular credit that is currently well collateralized and in bankruptcy, the problems seemed to be manageable.

Polly Zhang - JPMorgan

Have you disclosed what your exposure is to the hospitality sector in New Orleans, what portion of your loans are tied up?

Joe Exnicios

Yes, we have I think at some point in our total hotel exposure.

John Hope

We will be glad to provide you that if you could follow-up with Trisha Carlson.

Joe Exnicios

Yes.

Polly Zhang - JPMorgan

That’s great, and just another question. Given that your tangible common equity ratio has come down somewhat owing to the Parish acquisition, if you have a targeted range of that ratio – then, what is it going forward?

Tom Callicutt

Yes, we do but we are not particularly sharing that with everybody.

Polly Zhang - JPMorgan

Okay, that’s fair. That’s all the questions I have. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions).

John Hope

Hey if there are no other questions I want to thank everybody, but I am wondering, as if will you just allow me to make a couple of comments as a part of our closing.

This is John Hope. I would like to address a recent New York Times article in which I was quoted. The comments included in the article dated Sunday, January 18th were taken from an investor presentation given at a financial services conference in mid-November. The comments were made to an audience of mostly bank analysts, and related to our late October press release regarding why we believed it was important to participate in the [talk] program. At that time, it was early in the process and the focus and intent of the Treasury was still being finalized.

Since we were in our normal quiet period, we did not speak with the reporter about the story and unfortunately I believe my comments were taken out of context. Included in the slide presentation, which accompanied the speech were statements regarding our current capital position and why we felt it was important to take the money even though we were a well capitalized company. I also made comments about possible uses with the funds and noted that the funds would not only allow us to build upon already strong capital levels, but would also provide us with the flexibility to withstand a deeper and/or longer recession which obviously would allow us to continue to service our customers.

The comment that I made about not changing our policy to comply with the public sector was not meant to imply we would not lend the funds. But more of a statement about not intending to change our underwriting criteria that would lead to more bad loans, which is how this current economic crisis got started. As you can see from our results today we are lending money. 21% increase in our organic loan portfolio on a linked quarter basis is proof in of itself that we are making loans. We’ve been taking care of our customers and our markets for 125 years.

We’ve been through the great depression. We made it through the hurricanes, notably Katrina and Rita, and we’ve been here through those for our customers, and we will be here for our customers throughout the extent of this current crisis not withstanding whatever the New York Times article wanted to imply. Thank you.

Any other question before we go. If you have any you might check with Trisha Carlson.

Operator

And, ladies and gentlemen that does conclude today’s conference. Thank you for your participation you may now disconnect.

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